Toyota’s Jit Revolution: A Legendary Production System

In the mid-1990s, more than fifty executives and engineers from major automobile companies worldwide visited Toyota Motor Company’s manufacturing complex at Georgetown, US, to study the Toyota Production System (TPS). The visit also included an intensive question and answer session. Even though the visitors were from competing automakers, including Ford and Chrysler, Toyota did not deny them access to the plant.

The TPS aimed to produce world-class, quality automobiles at competitive prices. It was built on two main principles, Just-in-Time (JIT) production and Jidoka. JIT was used not only in manufacturing but also in product development, supplier relations and distribution. Analysts remarked that despite imitating Toyota’s JIT for many years, no other automaker in the world had been able to make their production systems and processes as efficient as Toyota had done. Analysts felt that though other leading automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Honda and DaimlerChrysler excelled in advanced engineering techniques, engine technology and styling, they did not match Toyota in efficiency, productivity and quality.

Executives of rival companies also appreciated Toyota’s manufacturing and product development systems. Officials at GM commented, “Toyota is the benchmark in manufacturing and product development.” A top executive at Ford said, “Toyota is far ahead in developing markets that the real race is for the second place.” Some executives at BMW also considered Toyota the best car company in the world.

The early adoption of JIT principles by Toyota seemed to have helped the company achieve significant success. It helped the company respond quickly to changing customer needs and offer high quality products at low costs, thus increasing customer satisfaction.

The JIT production was defined as ‘producing only necessary units in a necessary quantity at a necessary time resulting in decreased excess inventories and excess workforce, thereby increasing productivity.’ Kiichiro realized that by relying solely on the central planning approach, it would be very difficult to implement JIT in all the processes for an automobile. Hence, TPS followed the production flow conversely. People working in one process went to the preceding one to withdraw the necessary units in the necessary quantities at the necessary time. This resulted in the preceding process producing only quantities of units to replace those that had been withdrawn.

Toyota flourished during the Second World War by selling trucks and buses to the army and the company launched its first small car (SA Model) in 1947. After the war, the company faced a series of financial problems. A financial support package from a consortium of banks (after the intervention of the Bank of Japan) helped Toyota tide over its problems. The package consisted of a series of steps that included downsizing and restructuring the company into separate manufacturing and sales divisions. As per the revival package, The Toyota Motor Sales Company Ltd. was formed in 1950. In the same year, Kiichiro resigned.

By 1952, Toyota made a turnaround and in 1953, the company appointed distributors in El Salvador and Saudi Arabia and started exports. Meanwhile, Taiichi Ohno (Ohno) took charge of the company. In 1957, Toyota entered the US market through its subsidiary, Toyota Motor Sales, USA. In 1959, the company began its first overseas production in Brazil and over the next few years, developed a vast network of overseas plants. Besides manufacturing, Toyota started a global network of design and Research and Development facilities covering the three major car markets of Japan, North America and Europe.

By the early 1970s, Toyota’s sales exceeded that of Chrysler and Volkswagen and its production was behind that of only General Motors (GM) and Ford. Toyota continued its efforts to make its production system more efficient and also developed flexible manufacturing systems. It also began to tap the markets in the Middle East and by 1974 the Toyota Corolla, (launched in 1965) became the largest selling car in the world. In 1984, Toyota entered into a joint venture with GM and established the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI).

By the early 1990s, as Toyota expanded its overseas operations, the excessive capital spending affected its profit margins. Tatsuro Toyoda (Tatsuro), who took over as the company President in 1992, began to control costs by eliminating all unnecessary expenditure. In 1995, after Tatsuro resigned due to health reasons, Hiroshi Okuda (Okuda) became Toyota president. In 1996, Toyota consolidated its production in North American production units into the Cincinnati based Toyota Motor Manufacturing (North America).

According to analysts, Toyota’s success in both the local and global markets was mainly because of its state-of-the-art and well-planned operational strategies. The company had continuously focused on gaining a competitive advantage through implementation of innovative and path-breaking ideas on its production floors. TPS worked on the basic idea of maintaining a continuous flow of products in factories in order to flexibly adapt to demand changes. The most important feature of TPS was the way it linked all production activities to real dealer demand through

implementation of Kanban, JIT and other quality measures that enabled Toyota to manufacture in low quantities. Developed by the Japanese, the JIT production system was one of the most significant production management approaches of the post World War II era. The system comprised a set of activities aimed at increasing production volume through the optimum use of inventories of raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods. In a JIT production system, a workstation gets a part just in time, completes its work and the part is moved through the system quickly.

JIT was based on the principle of producing only what is needed and nothing more than needed. The Japanese believed that anything produced over the quantity required was a waste. Cho defined waste as, “Anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts and workers (working time) which are absolutely essential to production.” JIT did not allow any surplus as it believed that “effort and material expended for something not needed now cannot be utilized now.” (Refer Table I for requirements and assumptions of JIT).